Sunderland handed huge fitness boost as Jordan Pickford returns to full training

Jordan Pickford in goal for Sunderland
Jordan Pickford in goal for Sunderland
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Sunderland have been handed a huge fitness boost with Jordan Pickford back in full training.

Pickford had been in stunning form for Sunderland after breaking into the first team until he picked up a knee injury in the Boxing Day defeat to Manchester United.

The England Under-21 international was initially ruled out for six to eight weeks but Washington-born Pickford has been working hard and has now returned to full training at the Academy of Light.

It remains to be seen when Pickford will be ready for first team action, with Southampton the visitors to the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

But Pickford's return leaves manager David Moyes with a selection headache given Vito Mannone has helped Sunderland record back-to-back clean sheets against Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace to boost survival hopes.

Moyes revealed last week that Pickford, who stretched his cruciate ligament in the 3-1 defeat to Manchester United, was making good progress and hoped to be able to call upon his services again soon.

Ahead of his return to training, the Scot told the Echo: "The specialist said that they didn’t want any contact, which I thought was strange because with goalkeepers there’s always contact when they hit the ground, but it was a certain type of contact.

"He’s not too far away, he’s doing a lot of work, a lot of handling work, a lot of diving about, but he’s not in the group just now because they don’t want any contact.

"I hope so because he’s quite well down with his work, it could be a couple of weeks but I’m not quite sure."

When Pickford was first ruled out, Moyes described his injury lay-off as a "massive blow" but said Sunderland were lucky to have Mannone to fill his gloves.

The experienced Italian started the season as the number one but lost his place to Pickford after a spell out following elbow surgery.